Seattle's Top Bladesmiths Share Their Tips For Keeping Knives Sharp

Like a samurai warrior, a chef’s choice of blade denotes mastery. More than a mere tool of the trade or means to an end in food prep, a chef’s blade serves as a medium of self-expression - steel and chef joined together in a seamless act of creation.

Like any art form, a chef’s blade proves as unique as the master wielding it, imbued with facets forged, annealed, quenched, and tempered, then ground, buffed, and polished by the bladesmith prior to ownership by the culinary artist.

As with any artist’s tool, optimum materials result in optimum products; optimum care in optimum results. Optimum care starts with the bladesmith and continues through its lifespan with the chef. Regardless of skill or experience, knives are tools that excel with proper oversight and maintenance by its keeper.

The Seattle culinary scene boasts a robust knife smithing community, including some of the world’s greatest kitchen blade makers. Here, top blade smiths attending the annual Seattle International Knife Show share their culinary knife tips with Foodable TV.

 BladeGallery’s Epicurean Edge | Kirkland, WA

 If you’re a chef in the Seattle area, or worldwide for that matter, you probably purchase and/or sharpen your knives at BladeGallery’s Epicurean Edge in Kirkland, WA.

Renowned for their meticulous hand-sharpening, steel against stone, the shop also fixes what BladeGallery President Daniel O’Malley calls ‘geometry’ problems, e.g., straightening bends, adjusting bolster heights, chips and broken tip repairs. O’Malley contends that hand-sharpening, though labor-intensive, produces the longest lasting, sharpest blade edge.

Asked what most Seattle chefs consider their ‘must have’ culinary blade, O’Malley lists the Yoshikane gyuto 210 mm. (8.5 inches), citing the blade’s versatility -  nimble enough for chopping and detail work, but also long enough to slice more delicate meats.

Over the past twenty years, O’Malley notes a culinary shift from use of the heavier 10’ German chef knife to the lighter, thinner Japanese knives.

O’Malley offers three tips for keeping favorite blades sharp longer:

1.  Hone knives using a ceramic honing rod, not the traditional diamond rod. A honing rod straightens, rather than sharpens a blade. Hone every two to three hours of use. 

2.  Cut on a soft, ‘self-healing’ wooden cutting board. Wood cutting boards offer less stress than plastic cutting boards or compressed wood fiber boards. Plastic boards tend to chip the knife edge; super-hard compressed wood fiber boards damage the blade edge more quickly. Avoid cutting boards created from a mix of woods, glass, or marble.

3.  Avoid chopping food, then moving it on the cutting board with a sliding motion of the knife’s edge. This can bend or remove the edge. Instead, use a dough scraper or the knife spine to move food on the board.

 Carter Cutlery | Hillsboro, OR

“Thinner is better.” So says Japanese-trained ABS Mastersmith Murray Carter and 17th generation blade maker at Carter Cutlery.  Carter calls this the Japanese bladesmith ‘Golden Rule‘  -  make the knife as thin as possible, but still hard enough to withstand constant use.

Today, Carter smiths out of his combination workshop/blade making school in Hillsboro, Oregon. Carter estimates he’s hand-crafted over 22,000 knives in his lengthy career, including custom blades for recurring customer Food Network’s Alton Brown, as well as the Obama White House kitchen staff. Carter’s most popular knives include sushi, paring, and rural-style Kuro-uchi knives.

Carter forges his blades using Japanese Hitachi high carbon steel. Considered the purest carbon steel available, Hitachi white steel contains less impurities, namely sulfur and phosphorus. Carter explains that the purer the steel, the more uniform the finished product, and thus less prone to damage.

High-carbon knives are very hard due to the higher carbon content. The edges are anything but flexible. They take and hold an extremely sharp edge but are brittle and can chip. Murray constructs his knife using san-mai (or triple layer) lamination. The high carbon steel is laminated between two layers of softer steel (usually stainless, but Gokunan-tetsu in the case of our kuro-uchi series). This is the traditional Japanese method of making knives.

Haley DesRosiers | Petersburg, AK

Chefs, beware. Haley DesRosiers kicks some serious steel at her Alaska Blades work shop near the waters of Petersburg, Alaska.  This artisan lady bladesmith belongs to a rare ‘sisterhood of the blade,’ a few women worldwide sassy enough to forge steel shoulder to shoulder with the guys - in Haley’s case, husband and ABS Mastersmith Adam DesRosiers.

A Journeyman Smith (one of the highest ranks of blade-smithing), Haley specializes in heat treating her carbon-steel crafted knives, often testing the blades on unsuspecting moose antlers, tree limbs, and metal tubs before shipping them off to satisfied customers. Haley contends that this emphasis upon heat treatment results in blades that require less sharpening.

Haley speaks with passion about sharing an energy between the blades she smiths and the chefs for whom she crafts them. Like a mother bear, she keeps tabs on her blades, providing a lifetime guarantee. Culinary artists who invest in a Haley DesRosiers blade do so for the long haul.

Clearly, these artisan bladerunners blend alchemy and artistry to create culinary knifes of exceptional durability and dexterity for chefs worldwide.